Today, the BBC carried a news item about a change in NICE guidelines and that doctors should suggest a teaspoonful of honey rather than antibiotics for a cough. Needless to say, as a beekeeper, I approve of this! I am not convinced it is going to mean I can put up my prices however.
The research indicating that antibiotics make no difference for the vast majority of coughs is not new and a mixture of doctors not being assertive enough and many patients insisting that doctors give them something is part of what has led to there being so many bacterial infections that are resistant to antibiotics.
There is a lot of good research indicating that essential oils can help prevent the spread of infections through there use in cleaning products. The research basis for their use in fighting infections, bacterial or viral is less established however I would not hesitate to use them if I get a cough or cold. My anecdotal experience is that they do help and that in particular, Rosemary, Tea Tree, Eucalyptus and a number of other oils can all help if inhaled during a bout of infection. I would also use the oils diluted in a carrier around the chest area where they would give off the aroma during the day. If severe I would advise avoiding massage during this time but if mild would say go ahead.